Last orders is looming. If you're hoping to have Christmas delivered, is it all booked in yet?
There is a big-deal meal happening in 12 days' time. What you eat depends on how you – or your hosts – choose to shop. And although it's still many hours and other, probably better meals away, the options for the Christmas lunch shop are disappearing fast.
Since online food shopping became reliable (stifle your snorts if you've had Doritos substituted for Bordeaux), many people have come to rely on it. It's nice to be able to test the quality of your veg by squeezing a tomato (not too hard!), but if you need loo roll, gin, foil and Celebrations as well as parsnips and poultry and you don't want to fight with idiots to get the last reasonable specimens, having it delivered to your door is wise indeed.
If you are one of the people who thought about this a month ago, congratulations – and enjoy your Doritos. If not, what's your plan? The major supermarkets, which tend to release online grocery delivery slots around three weeks before the festivities, with some giving first refusal to regular customers, are mostly sold out of van time.
Delivery on Friday 23 December, the in-demand day due to its proximity to the big one and the chance to nip out on Christmas Eve if you (or the supermarket) miss something, is a pipedream. Checking on Saturday for available slots for deliveries to our house near Manchester made me thank the little baby Jesus that we're not hosting anything that demands more than tea and mince pies this year. Waitrose and Tesco's best slots were the few remaining on 21 December, while Ocado and Sainsbury's could only offer the day before. Only Asda could have done the Friday, and as far as I can see they don't sell whole fresh turkeys. That's a disadvantage.
Where "click and collect" services exist (they do the shopping, you go and fetch it) all the shops required us to drive past our huge local stores and on into unfamiliar territory for the pickup, which would feel slightly too much like buying stolen art in a layby. In theory I could actually go to the shops, but home-shopping "pickers" - as well as regular shoppers - clog up the aisles at our local superstore to the extent that a personal visit is a deeply frustrating experience, even at 7.30am.
Deadlines for local butchers and fishmongers might be long past (our butcher deliberately over-orders, then sells the extras to those who do the best begging face), but there are other ways to get your food roughly when you want it. Gourmet butchers Donald Russell deliver nationwide right up until Christmas Eve, although meat is delivered frozen so big roasting joints should be ordered by the 22 December for arrival on the 23rd to ensure they're thoroughly defrosted (48 hours). On the micro level, Mark "Marky Market" White, who shops at Billingsgate and Smithfield markets for his London customers, is doing market runs daily between Tuesday 20 and Friday 23 December. At the last count, the latter was almost full for deliveries, but if you're on his route, you might be lucky.
Northern Harvest, the veg box and food delivery company are doing all their deliveries, including turkeys, on 22 and 23 December; orders must be in by noon on the 14th. KellyBronze, they of the famous turkeys, are delivering on the 22nd and will close their order book appealingly late at 8am on Monday 19th. Abel & Cole deliver on different days depending on where you live; we're a Monday and their Christmas schedule is a day later, so we'd get the veg box and associated goodies on the 20th, with last orders on the 16th. Our local Riverford is sold out of most turkeys and geese, but what they do have will be delivered from the 18th with shelf life up to the 27th. Daylesford Organics, whose last Christmas order is the 16th, do a surprisingly well-priced Christmas lunch box that they'll deliver in one of two time slots on the 21st or 22nd. Have we missed any?
Of course, Christmas lunch isn't the only festive feast. Hobby cooks like nothing better than an excuse for a "special" meal and a chance to crack the spine of their Christmas cookbook. Because some smaller suppliers close after Christmas, and New Year dinners demand luxurious ingredients and possibly ras-el-hanout, pretendy caviar or fresh tarragon, the 31 December food shop can be even more traumatic. How far is too far to go to collect a lobster? We drove 7 miles last year. Better book a delivery slot.
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